By Rebecca Astill
If you’re anything like me, first year comes with a mountain of expectations. Having worked my arse off for the past 4 years of public examination years to get into Cardiff University, I was determined to have the best three years of my life. I’m about to go into my third year, and I’d say I’ve not done too badly in living up to the hopes of my 18-year-old self, but it wasn’t completely what I expected.
When you decide to go to university, sure, you want to come out the other side with a degree, but you buy into an experience. From the new friends to romance to nights out to stories that you’ll tell until you’re grey and old, freshers offers an open door to excitement and anxiety. Moving in with complete strangers is nothing like anything most people will have experienced before. I was lucky – I got on with all my flatmates and continued living with one of them into second and now third year. However, among them I still had the one who thought he was a DJ and insisted on practicing late into the night, the one who screamed so loud whenever her boyfriend stayed over that we were concerned for her well-being, and the one who sent passive aggressive messages to the group chat every time something was slightly out of place. This is the reality of it, but your flat is not the be all and end all. I made plenty of other friends in my building, on my course, and through societies.
My best advice during freshers week is to talk to absolutely everyone. Everyone is in the same position, nobody knows anyone, and everybody appreciates a friendly face. I recall one morning in freshers week, around 4am after walking a friend back to his accommodation after an ‘afters’ in my dressing gown (anything goes in freshers). As I walked across the smokers courtyard, two boys shouted to me, ‘nice dressing gown’. Two boys shouting at me in any other situation would have quickened my pace to a near-run, but it was 4am, my rational thinking had been slightly (OK quite a bit) affected by too many vodka lemonades and VKs. The boys and I ended up staying up until 7am that night, exploring the curious depths of being newly independent 18-year-olds in an unknown city. We are still friends today, with an imaginatively named group chat called ‘7am friends’.
Societies are a great way to meet similar minded people, whether it be Student Media, a subject society, or a sport. I have played tennis since first year and recently joined the University magazine Quench for my third year. I’ve always been a big sports player but never a big gym goer (I do try but it never seems to happen more than a few times a month), so training three times a week for tennis with matches once a week is ideal for me. Socials every week ensure that you make friends with other members as well – I can’t promise to remember a whole lot of tennis socials throughout the years, particularly in second year when I took on the role of Social Secretary, but I can assure you that I loved every one. My highlights include going to the SU in a head to toe Luigi outfit (good job I had no dignity left on Wednesday nights anyway), drinking two bottles of wine and having to be rescued from a street in Cathays where I had decided to take a nap, and of course the yearly Christmas parties and AGMs. The SU and VKs are a big part of Cardiff University culture – and joining a society is the best way to get involved.
Next, perhaps the most sensitive issue, is that of relationships, whether that be platonic friendships or love interests. My parents met at university; there was a point in second year when I was the only single girl in a house of 6 girls; a lot of my other friends have stopped coming on nights out in favour of date nights with significant others. But I have also been there for friends who have had their hearts ripped out by boys who have cheated, lied, or refused to attempt long distance. My best friend was recently cheated on by her boyfriend of 6 years – the one she thought she was going to marry. I’ve been on dates – good dates, bad dates, gone back to boys I shouldn’t have, and trusted people who didn’t respect me. But that’s OK – because now I know what I’m looking for and I won’t settle. My point is, that everybody has a different timeline. It’s OK if you don’t find the love of your life at university – and don’t come looking for it. It will happen organically, and there is so much other stuff to focus on at this point of your life.
University is a roller-coaster of emotions. For me, particularly in first year, I felt happier than ever and lower than I had for a long time. I loved, I partied, I longed for my mum, usually when I was hungover and feeling sorry for myself, and I probably didn’t work as hard as I should have. As cliché as it sounds, university is a big steppingstone for finding yourself. You are living by yourself for the first time and thrown into a new life, where you are forced to look after yourself, cook for yourself, make friends, and balance your work and social life.
Throw yourself into it. You’ve got this.